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5 Epiphany - Matthew 5:13-20

The law that Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill was God's word to overwhelmed people.

They were wandering about forty years in the wilderness, which happens to nations and

to generations of rescued, displaced slaves.

Joy and relief are mixed with fear and anxiety and the lingering PTSD from Pharaoh's Egypt, so God holds their shaking hand and looks into their wet eyes and says, "We're not going

back there.


Life will be different now.


You have dignity, and so does your neighbor, and we're going to build a new nation on

new principles, on righteousness and justice and mercy.

Other nations will notice and be drawn to your shining light.

You will be different, special, one of a kind; you will be holy.

And here's how we're going to do it..."


Like so many human stories, what came of this was a mixture of healing and success and relapse.There was triumph and conflict and palace intrigue and abuse of power.

The warnings of prophets were mocked and ignored.

The nation was conquered and its power brokers captured and carted off to a foreign land.

Another generation passed, and some stayed abroad, but others held on to the promise of the land that Moses saw from his mountaintop so many years before.

When they finally returned home, the old place was a ghost town, a shell of what it used to be.They began to rebuild, and Ezra read the entire law to tell the people, "We're not going

back there.


Life will be different now.


We must follow these rules this time, and don't let your children marry foreigners

because that's how the specialness, the holiness gets compromised.

Pray, fast, and worship correctly, and then God will bless us."

But the great national comeback faltered and the economy stagnated and organized religion floundered and the rich blamed the poor and the poor blamed the rich ... it happens. So Isaiah the prophet came to speak God's word to overwhelmed people.


Five centuries later, it was Jesus' turn.


The roll call of the strangely blessed at the start of his sermon demonstrates that he was

speaking God's restoring word to overwhelmed people.

Roman rule was heavy, and so was the endless checklist of religious requirements from the

faithful but uptight scribes and Pharisees, God's hyper conscientious bureaucrats.

Injustice and corruption can slide, but parking violations will not be tolerated.

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! is how Jesus put it to them.

Their version of the word of God didn't feel much different than the regulations of Rome or the impossible whims of Pharaoh. So Jesus looks into the crowd of wearied faces with burdened eyes and says, Blessed are the overwhelmed and the overmatched.

Blessed are you.


You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.


Today the details are different, but the story is the same.

Life is too overwhelming for too many of us—family conflict, political dysfunction,

deadly diagnoses, legal strangleholds, discriminations, information overload, economic

death by a thousand cuts all poked by marketers promising happiness for a reasonable

price you can't afford.


The hamster wheel spins faster and the rent goes up and the homeless population grows and the church is asking for more of your time and money and energy just like everyone else.

And our efforts to be part of the solution can easily feel like part of the problem.

Too often, the church has gone Pharisee, reducing God's intervention of beautiful love

into nit picking judgment and joyless drudgery.

"That's not the right way to light the candle!" – which is exactly the way to snuff out a soul.

What happened to holy, to special, to living differently?


So the Holy Spirit brings us the words of Isaiah and Jesus to remind us, and free us, to be who we are.

You, burdened and blessed and beloved ones, are the salt of the earth, which explains why life feels like such a pile of crap. You see, in this case, "the earth" is not a planet; it's an outdoor oven. Beneath its double stove was a dung heap, a literal pile of crap, fuel for the oven. To make the earth work, the dung heap was salted so that it would burn.

The salt of the earth transformed dung into fuel, which is everything you need to know

about the mission of Christ and the mystery of the cross.

We are thrown onto the dung heap of the world to transform waste into new life.

We are strategically placed to transform darkness into new vision.

Even now at your local diner (check this at brunch), most people don't notice or appreciate the light or the salt until they are not there.

Salt and light get taken for granted, and they make all the difference in the world, which is

everything you need to know about what it means to be the people of God.

We do not need the credit or the glory.

We do not need to establish any blame.


Remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil.

Stop trampling on the sabbath and other people in pursuit of your own profits.


Get over yourself.

You are the salt on a pile of s***: not very glamorous, and absolutely essential.

You are the light of the world: you transform everything you touch without being noticed.

And when we realize this, we are set free from the tyranny of status and scorekeeping.

Held safe in both humility and honor, our dignity protected in perspective and purpose, we are free to be truly special.

We are free to transform dung into fuel and darkness into vision and slavery into freedom and captivity into homecoming and drudgery into delight and tears into smiles.

We don't have to be paralyzed by the enormity of homelessness in Los Angeles; we make bags with water and candy and band-aids and socks that feel like nothing more than a pinch of salt for the earth, and are just as valuable.


And we do it in the name and footsteps of the one who does not quit, whose word has shown up time and again from exodus to exile to mountain to church to street.


You will be a light to the nations, God insists; you are the light of the world.

Burn and shine: Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one

stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.


God will see this through.


Love your neighbor, and all the crap you find yourself in will be turned into something

wonderful, which is why our beacon and our brand is the cross of Christ.

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